The whale shark is hailed as the largest known species of fish in the world. Despite its size and being classified as a shark, it is no fearsome toothed predator but a gentle giant that eats through “filter feeding.” With its habitat being all tropical oceans, whale sharks can be found in Philippine waters, where it is locally known as the “butanding.” Its inoffensive nature has made it easily harmed to the point of being classified as endangered. The national government has taken steps to protect whale sharks by declaring certain locals as its “critical habitats.” Soon, the waters off GenSan might be joining them.
According to the Philippine News Agency, local stakeholders of GenSan are pushing the City Council to have the city’s coastal waters in Sarangani Bay be declared as a critical habitat for whale sharks. On Wednesday, March 13, GenSan City Councilor Shandee Llido remarked that they are getting close to passing a new ordinance that will make the bay area next to GenSan a sanctuary that will actively offer protection from interference for any butanding that takes shelter in Sarangani Bay. Sightings of whale sharks in the area have become increasingly common, with 16 of them spotted recently in the Bay.
These known whale sharks are being watched over by the GenSan chapter of Task Force Butanding, and it is their recommendation that is the impetus for the city ordinance declaring Sarangani Bay a critical habitat. The inner workings of this proposal have been left to be written up by Sarangani PENRO tech services division head Dr. Rosalinda Cortez, and the Sarangani Bay protected area superintendent Joy Oliguin. An official statement given by Task Force Butanding-GenSan states, “This is because of some alarming findings of the task force research team of some propeller injuries and small wildlife deaths due to entanglement with fishing lines and nets.”
Whale shark sightings in Sarangani Bay off the coast of GenSan began in earnest during 2014, when two were documented to be living within the area. The number of confirmed butanding residing within the bay jumped this year alone, when 14 additional sightings were confirmed and documented by Task Force Butanding-GenSan since January. The volunteer team of environmental advocates believes that the whale sharks chose to stay in Sarangani Bay due to taking liking for the “lupuy” sardine fishes, which they filter into their mouths. Normally whale sharks do not stay in one locale for long, moving from one place to another, searching for food.
Image courtesy of Philippine Star